3 Reasons Why Ceramides Are Essential in Your Skin-Care Routine

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This article first appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of New Beauty. Click here to subscribe

Anyone who struggles with dry skin has most likely seen the word “ceramides” listed on one or more of their hydrating products. Though they may not be the main ingredient, ceramides might be the most important factor in your whole routine.

The Ins and Outs

Think of ceramides as the carbon fiber of skin care. Like the fiber, which is used to strengthen and protect material, ceramides are essential for fortification and they keep skin in one piece (now they seem pretty crucial, right?). In fact, ceramides are one of the most protective additives in skin care, as they “help strengthen the skin’s natural moisture barrier and defend against daily and long-term aggressors,” says Tom Allison, cofounder and senior vice president of professional marketing at CeraVe. Naturally found in our skin or derived from plants, ceramides are a type of lipids used in a wide range of products, but cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos says they’re most commonly formulated in moisturizers—both for the face and body—or specific treatments for atopic dermatitis or eczema.

They Hold Skin Cells Together.

Consider ceramides the ‘glue’ that binds our cells together in the skin’s outermost layer,” explains Omaha, NE dermatologist Joel Schlessinger, MD. “This layer, often called the moisture barrier, is the skin’s primary defense against environmental factors that can cause signs of damage.”

Despite ceramides’ role in the protection of our skin, we lose the ability to produce them when we reach our mid-20s, when our bodies produce them at a rate of 1 percent per year. “This depletion can also be accelerated by behaviors such as exposing skin to chemicals and environmental factors like pollution,” says Allison. While he recommends using products that add ceramides back into our skin, Melville, NY dermatologist Kally Papantoniou, MD says ingesting ceramide-rich foods can help, too. “Some great natural sources are soybeans, dairy, eggs, and sweet potatoes,” she adds.

They help soothe inflammatory conditions.

One of ceramides’ most celebrated traits is their ability to alleviate a wide variety of skin conditions. “Acneic and eczema-prone skin have reduced levels of ceramides, so the impacted skin barrier can be further irritated and prone to flare-ups when ceramides are not added back in,” says Allison, who explains that this fact alone was the catalyst in incorporating ceramides into the entire CeraVe line. When ceramides are added into the equation, “they supplement the skin’s natural barrier and amp up natural ceramide production to restore balance and smoothness,” adds Dobos.

There are nine different types of ceramides.

—Tom Allison

If an alternative acne treatment is already in circulation within your routine, Dr. Schlessinger says that adding ceramides will only be of benefit. “They pair very well with chemical exfoliants like glycolic acid. The exfoliants dissolve and slough away dead skin cells that rest on the surface of the skin, allowing the ceramide product to penetrate more deeply.”

They’re the ultimate anti-aging tool.

As hard as we may try, we can’t stop our skin from aging, but what we can do is implement preventive measures to postpone it a bit. While Dr. Schlessinger stresses that sunscreen is the number-one product for anti-aging and preventing dark spots and wrinkles, he says ceramides are a close second due to their protective and moisturizing properties, which, in turn, minimize signs of aging. Dobos adds that “supplementing the skin’s natural lipids will help keep it plump and hydrated with smoother fine lines.”

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